Recent research on the impact of fossil fuels has contributed to making the subject of biofuels the order of the day. The acceleration of global warming is a fact that places the life of the planet at risk. However, it is necessary to demystify the principal solution that is now being proposed and disseminated by propaganda about the supposed benefits of biofuels.
Opposed to this idea that biofuels are the answer, Professor Mae-Wan-Ho, of the University of Hong Kong, a long-time critic of genetic engineering, explains that "Biofuels have been considered erroneously to be ‘carbon neutral.’ The costs of carbon dioxide emissions and energy to make fertilizers and pesticides have been ignored."
A report by the Belgian Cabinet of Scientific Studies shows similar results. "Biofuels cause more health and environmental problems because they create more particulate pollution and liberate more pollutants that increase the destruction of the ozone layer."
Soy has been presented by the Brazilian government as the principal source of biodiesel. Soy culture is like the jewel in the crown of Brazilian agribusiness, affirm Embrapa’s (Brazilian Company of Farming & Cattle Raising Research) researchers.
In this context, the role of Brazil would be to furnish cheap energy for rich countries, which represents a new phase of colonization.
The current policies for the sector are sustained by the same elements that marked Brazilian colonization: appropriation of the land, of the natural goods and labor, which represents greater concentration of land, water, income and power.
It is estimated that more than 90 million hectares could be utilized to produce biofuels. What is more, the "efficiency" of our production is due to the availability of cheap labor, including slaves. These characteristics are made known by governmental departments and by some intellectuals, who created the idea that the production of biofuels would bring great benefits.
"Our country has the largest extension of land in the world that is still available to be incorporated into the productive process," say Embrapa researchers. They estimate that the production of biomass "will be the most important component of Brazilian agribusiness."
With respect to the expansion of ethanol production, they conclude that there is the "possibility of sugar cane expansion in almost all the national territory."
Brazil now produces 17 billion liters of alcohol annually. According to the BNDES (National Bank of Economic & Social Development), eight billion liters more are necessary to serve just the internal market. Therefore, the bank predicts that Brazil must expand its production to other countries.
With the intention of controlling 50% of the world ethanol market, BNDES estimates that the country must produce 110 billion liters per year. In just the arid regions, there will be more than 20 million hectares available for planting," the report of Embrapa reveals.
In the Northeast, according to the researchers, "for castor bean plants alone there is an area of 3 million hectares appropriate for cultivation." They say too, that "The Brazilian Amazon region has the greatest potential for planting dendê (African oil palm) in the world, with an area estimated at 70 million hectares.
But this product is known as "the diesel of deforestation." Mass production of palm oil (as it is known in other countries) has already caused devastation of large forest areas in Colombia, Ecuador and Indonesia. In Malaysia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, 87% of the forests have been devastated.
Brazil can also fulfill the mission of legitimating the U.S. foreign policy. In his visit to Brazil in February, 2007, Nicholas Burns, U.S. sub secretary of State, said that "Research and development of biofuels can be the symbolic axis of a new and stronger partnership between Brazil and the U.S."
The two countries control 70% of the world’s production of ethanol. Recently, in response to the impact of this subject on society, the Bush government announced that it intends to reduce consumption by 20%.
According to Burns, "Energy tends to distort the power of some countries that we think have a negative impact on the world, like Venezuela and Iran."
Expansion of bioenergy production is of great interest to companies involved in GMOs. They hope to obtain greater public acceptance if they push the transgenic products as sources of "clean" energy.
"All the companies that produce transgenic plants – Syngenta, Monsanto, Dupont, Dow, Bayer, BASF – have investments in seeds created for the production of biofuels, like ethanol and biodiesel.
They have, in addition, collaborative agreements with multinationals such as Cargill, Archer, Daniel Midland, and Bunge, which dominate world commerce in cereals," explains Silvia Ribeiro, investigator of the Group ETC of Mexico.
According to Eric Hold-Gimenez, coordinator of the organization Food First, "Three huge companies (ADM, Cargill and Monsanto) are forging their empire: genetic engineering, processing and transportation – an alliance that will anchor the production and sale of ethanol."
And he adds that other agribusinesses like Bunge, Syngenta, Bayer and Dupont, became allies with the oil multinationals like Shell, Total and British Petroleum, as well as car manufacturers like Volkswagen, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault and Saab, to form an unprecedented partnership expecting huge profits from biofuels.
Experiences like the planting of castor beans by small farmers in the Northeast have demonstrated the risk of dependence on large agribusiness that controls prices, processing and distribution of the product. The farmers are utilized to give legitimacy to agribusiness, by means of distributing certification of "social fuel."
Expansion of biofuel production puts food independence at risk and could profoundly exacerbate the problem of world hunger. In Mexico, for example, the increase in corn exports to supply the ethanol market in the U.S. caused a 400% increase in the price of corn, which is the principal source of food for the population.
Discussion of new sources of energy implies, in the first place, a reflection on whom the new source will serve. The construction of a new energy source must take into account who will benefit or what purpose will it serve.
Marluce Melo and Maria Luísa Mendonça also contributed to this article.
Brasil de Fato